KARACHI   -  The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) is gravely concerned about the human aspect of the anti-encroachment drive currently going on in Karachi’s Saddar area. In a statement on Saturday, the HRCP said that ‘protecting people’s fundamental right to a livelihood must always take priority in urban planning.

The sheer scale on which shopkeepers and hawkers have been evicted from Saddar – putting thousands of low-income families at risk of almost immediate poverty – should be cause for serious concern among planning and development policymakers.

‘The notices issued to shopkeepers and vendors in this area, and offers of compensation – reportedly after eviction – constitute the bare minimum for which the state is responsible in this case.

These measures do not take into account the fact that small businesses take time to build up, especially in periods of severe economic uncertainty. Moreover, the city’s cultural right to preserve its heritage should not be so narrowly defined as to exclude Karachi’s poor and vulnerable, for whom Saddar has been the essence of an affordable and spontaneous cultural heritage for over 50 years.

The HRCP strongly urges Karachi’s policymakers and planners to implement a fairer compensation and resettlement plan, ensuring that the families affected are not simply dehumanised as mere resettlement statistics, and that their individual needs are documented and addressed.

Moreover, the state must take care to implement a far more equitable approach to urban planning – one that prioritises the economic, social and cultural needs of the poor over any city’s potentially divisive gentrification.’